Academy Begins Talks With AEG About Possibly Moving Oscars to Nokia Theatre (Exclusive)

Nokia Theater LA - H 2012
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Nokia Theater LA - H 2012

UPDATED: The downtown Los Angeles venue is offering a lease with a perks package that includes more seats, better infrastructure and more ancillary facilities for parties and press.

Only days after the motion picture Academy notified the Kodak Theatre in late December that it won’t automatically renew its option to present the Oscars there after 2013, an aggressive suitor with deep pockets has emerged.

AEG, which operates the L.A. Live and 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, already is in discussions with Academy officials, according to a source close to the talks.

The downtown venue is offering a lease comparable to what the Academy currently pays CIM Group, owner of the 3,400-seat Kodak, but with a perks package that includes more seats, better infrastructure, greater promotional opportunities and more ancillary facilities for parties and press.

AEG declined to comment. UPDATE: An Academy representative says, “The Academy has not begun venue negotiations for the Oscar telecast beyond 2013."

The Hollywood Reporter reported on Dec. 31 that the Academy is not looking to leave the Kodak, home of the annual Oscars telecast since 2002. But its lease with the venue allows it to explore whether better options exist.

“The opportunities are so much greater at the Nokia,” says Ron Semiao, senior vp at ESPN, which in 2008 moved its annual Espy Awards from the Kodak to the Nokia. "AEG has an infrastructure with so much marketing support it can really help you grow. It kicked the Espys up a notch as an event just because of everything that is there.”

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And while both the Kodak and Nokia have big stages and are great places to put on a TV show, Dick Clark Productions president Orly Adelson says the Nokia offers easier access: “The Kodak has only one entrance to load in and load out [sets]. At the Nokia there are two. That’s crucial on the American Music Awards because we change sets every three minutes.”

Adelson also praises the promotional opportunities and range of adjacent spaces, from hotels to the Staples Center, all surrounded by a plaza for fan events. “LA Live has different events, from sports to music to conferences and they cross-promote for us,” adds Adelson. “When you put on an event you need and want that cross promotion.”

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For instance, a month in advance of an event it is promoted on electronic billboards both inside the L.A. Live venues (including the Nokia and Staples center), as well as on outside signage that can be seen downtown and from the nearby freeways.  

AEG also helps bring in sponsors for events and sends out flyers and emails to its huge list of potential attendees, including those who attend sports events like the L.A. Kings and L.A. Lakers games.

“We also do the L.A. Food and Wine Festival there,” says Adelson. “They helped us bring in sponsors and helped make our first year there a huge success.”

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Also expected to bid are L.A’s Shrine Auditorium and Music Center, both of which have hosted the Oscars, but they are smaller and neither matches AEG’s marketing muscle. Other venues that could host the show, but are unlikely to be seriously considered, include the Pasadena Civic Auditorium (which hosted the Emmys for years and has 3,029 seats), the Gibson Ampitheater at Universal Citywalk (6,189 seats), the Walt Disney Concert Hall (2,265 seats) and the Wiltern Theater (2,344 seats).

The value of the lease is unknown, but the money at stake is significant: Academy tax records reveal the group spent $21.4 million to put on the 2010 Oscars, plus $1.6 million for the Governors Ball.

For the venue, the biggest benefit may well be the association with an event with international recognition that reaches a global television audience. That is what makes it so attractive to CIM Group, which may soon have to replace Kodak as the naming rights sponsor of the venue. Kodak is expected to file bankruptcy soon, or at the very least be reorganized in a way that may make it unlikely they will continue its $4 million a year commitment for another decade.